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Laura & Lansford Ingalls

grandfather / grandpa. A father’s or mother’s father; an ancestor in the next degree above the father or mother in lineal ascent. — Webster, 1882

grandmother / grandma. The mother of one’s father or mother. — Webster, 1882

“…The widow later married again, and I think is the Grandma who danced a jig at the Sugaring-off party. It so, the ‘wild’ Uncle George would be a Quiner and perhaps owned land there later. I think my grandfather owned his place, but I don’t know; never asked.” -Rose Wilder Lane, in a letter to Reba Wakefield, librarian in St. Paul, late 1950s or early 1960s.

Today, we have so much biographical information about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s relatives available at our fingertips that it’s hard to believe that decades after the publication of Little House in the Big Woods, Rose Wilder lane replied to a query that she really didn’t know who the unnamed grandparents in the first Little House book were. Rose speculated that the “Dance at Grandpa’s” chapter took place at Ma’s parents’ cabin in the Big Woods, not Pa’s! Rose may have answered as she did because it wasn’t really important to the story to name them.

While some readers may have figured it out, it wasn’t until March 1964 that Louise Mortensen’s article in Elementary English spelled out the painstaking census and deed research through which she deduced that “Lanford [sic] and Laura Ingalls” must have been Laura’s book grandpa and grandma, and that their land in Pierce County, Wisconsin, must have been where the book party took place. It was Aunt Docia’s unusual name in Little House in the Big Woods and By the Shores of Silver Lake that helped solve the puzzle when Mortensen found Docia on the 1860 census living in a household with not only her Ingalls parents but other aunts and uncles named in the book, including Docia’s married brother and his wife: Charles and Caroline Ingalls.

Lansford Whiting Ingalls was born November 12, 1812, in Dunham, Missisquoi, Quebec, Canada; he was the youngest of ten children born to Samuel Worthen Ingalls (born 1771 in New Hampshire) and Margaret Delano (born 1737 in Tolland, Connecticut).

Purcell Hill Road – (c) 2022 John A. Bass

Ontario and Allegany County, New York. Shortly after Lansford’s birth, the family moved from Canada to Richmond Township, Ontario County, New York. According to Ingalls researchers, if the “Story of Grandpa’s Sled and the Pig” tale told by Charles Ingalls (see Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 5, “Sundays”) was true, it likely took place on Purcell Hill Road in Canadice (established from Richmond in 1829) in Ontario County. From its beginning at Bald Hill Road to the lowest point at the outlet to Canadice Lake before the road ends at Canadice Lake Road to the east, Purcell Hill Road drops 300 feet in elevation- a prime sledding hill if there ever was one. About halfway down the hill on the south side of the road was located the house where Samuel Ingalls sat reading his Bible and snoozing while his young sons tried to sneak in a silent (and forbidden on Sunday) ride on their new sled.

September 1, 1830, 18-year-old Lansford married Laura Louise Colby, in Holland, Erie County, New York. Laura Colby was born November 5, 1810, the daughter of Nathan Colby and Eunice Blood, who settled in the Vermont Hill area of Holland. Lansford’s parents had moved to Cuba, Allegany County, New York around 1826-1828, and Laura and Lansford settled in Cuba, where at least five of their children were born: Peter Riley (1833), “Our Babe” (born and died in 1835), Charles Philip (1836), Lydia Louisa (1838), and Polly Melona (1840).

Kane County, Illinois. Lansford and family left Cuba in 1843, and the location of son Lansford James’ birth that year is unclear. Some sources say he was also born in Cuba, while others suggest he was born while the Ingallses were staying with family members in Wyoming County, New York, en route to Kane County, Illinois, where two of Lansford’s uncles were then living, James and Worthen Ingalls. Daughter Laura Ladocia (1846) was born in Washington, Homer (now Plato) Township, and son Hiram Lemuel (1848) was born in Elgin, Fairfield (now Campton) Township, both in Kane County. Lansford didn’t own property in Illinois, instead farming with his uncles on their land. At the time of Hiram’s birth, Lansford’s family was living on the farm of his uncle, John Collins, and his wife, the former Samantha Ingalls. The 1850 census for Campton, Kane County, Illinois includes Lansford Ingalls, age 38, laborer; wife Laura, age 39, and children Peter (17), Charles (14), Lydia (12), Polly (10), Lansford (7), Laura L. (5), and Hiram (2).

Jefferson County, Wisconsin. Lansford and Laura and family soon made the move to Jefferson County, Wisconsin, where George Whiting was born in 1851. It’s unclear where the family lived in Jefferson County prior to Lansford’s purchase of 80 acres along the Oconomowoc River in Concord Township on December 31, 1853, the E-NW 12-7N-16E. Peter Ingalls signed the deed as witness to his father’s $300 land purchase. In 1855, the Ingallses’ last child, Ruby Celestia, was born in Concord Township. The Ingallses’ near neighbors were the Charlotte and Frederick Holbrook family, the mother and step-father of Caroline Quiner. As every Little House fan knows, there were three marriages between Ingalls and Quiner siblings: Peter Ingalls & Eliza Quiner, Henry Quiner & Polly Ingalls, and Charles Ingalls & Caroline Quiner.

November 4, 1857, Lansford Ingalls sold the east 40 acres of his land to his son Charles for $460. Charles Ingalls and Caroline Quiner were married in January 1860 and are enumerated on the 1860 census as living with his parents and unmarried siblings. The next year, Lansford and Charles lost the farm for non-payment of taxes (and likely the non-payment of a mortgage on the land, as a lawsuit was filed against both Charles and Lansford), and the 80 acres was sold by the sheriff for $700.

Google map showing the outline of Charlotte Quiner / Frederick Holbrook property and nearby Lansford Ingalls / Charles Ingalls property on the Oconomowoc River in Concord Township, Jefferson County, Wisconsin.

It’s unclear where both Ingalls families lived after the sale of their farm, but surviving letters suggest that Charles and Caroline, at least, continued to live in Concord Township. In October 1861, Caroline wrote to her sister Martha – then living in Pepin County with her husband, Charles Carpenter – that Lansford and Laura Ingalls, along with son Peter and his wife Eliza (Caroline’s sister), had gone to the headwaters of the Baraboo River (in Monroe County) and that they felt bad about leaving their farm, which Lansford had tried his best to save. Peter and Eliza returned to Jefferson County prior to the 1862 birth of their first child, daughter Alice, and it’s assumed that Lansford and Laura and their younger children returned as well.

In late summer 1864, the extended Lansford Ingalls family left Jefferson County for Pepin County. This included Lansford (around the time of his 52nd birthday) and his wife Laura; their daughters Ladocia, Ruby and Lydia (plus Lydia’s son, Lafayette Clough); sons Peter and wife Eliza and daughter Alice; and Lansford’s unmarried sons James (21), Hiram (16) and George (13). Neither Lansford or any of his sons owned property in Jefferson County after Lansford lost his farm there.

The Wisconsin enrollment and Federal draft of men during the Civil War may have influenced Lansford’s decision to move west, as the odds of his sons being drafted were definitely lower in western Wisconsin in the early years of the war. Due to sufficient volunteers, there was no state draft in Concord Township in November 1862, and only 2 were drafted in Waterloo Township, where sons Peter and James were likely living. Since James and Peter’s names weren’t crossed off the September 1864 enrollment corrections, the family may not have left Jefferson County until shortly after that date. Charles Ingalls and his brother-in-law, Henry Quiner, had moved to Pepin the previous year and they jointly purchased a quarter section in Pepin County on September 28, 1863.

Pepin County, Wisconsin. The Lansford Ingalls family was living in Pepin County by November 8, 1864, when voting records show that Lansford, Peter, James, and Charles all voted in the General Election on that date. January 30, 1865, Lansford purchased land a half mile west of Charles: the NW 33-24N-15W. Lansford paid $50 plus $5.55 in back taxes and expenses for the quarter section, which was then owned by the county. In November 1865, Lansford sold the south half of land to son Lansford James for $100 (James had been discharged from the Union Army two months earlier). In the spring of 1867, James sold this land for $500 and moved north to Pierce County. In June 1868, Lansford sold his 80 acres for $1200; he was also moving to Pierce County. Charles had recently purchased land – sight unseen – land in Chariton County, Missouri.

Portion of 1877 Pepin County map showing location of Charles Ingalls and Lansford Ingalls land purchases. The “Wayside Cabin” historic site is located on Charles Ingalls’ former land on County Road CC north of Pepin.

Pierce County, Wisconsin. Both Lansford Ingalls and his son James filed on 80-acre homesteads in Rock Elm Township, Pierce County: Lansford, the N-SE 26-26N-15W, and James, the S-NW 28-26N-15W, two miles west of his father. Joseph Stouff (who married Lydia Ingalls) and August Waldvogel (who married Docia Ingalls) also had claims in Pierce County.

When Laura and Lansford Ingalls settled on their claim in October 1868, they were both in their mid to late fifties and some of their children were still living at home, but by the time of the 1870 census, only George (age 19) and Ruby (age 15) were enumerated in the household with their parents. According to Lansford’s 1874 final proof, the log cabin he built was “a comfortable house to live in,” and – as Laura Ingalls Wilder described the cabin – it was certainly large, over twenty by thirty-five feet in footprint and a story and a half in height. Lansford built a barn, dug a well, cultivated 25 acres, and set out fruit trees and berry bushes.

Dance at Grandpa’s. Called the dance at grandma’s in later books, the party described in Little House in the Big Woods only mentions family members attendees by name, suggesting it was family event; but, according to Wilder’s Big Woods manuscript, neighbors were called to the sugaring-off dance by Uncle George’s bugle blasts from the front door. Researchers tend to agree that Laura was probably writing about a remembered event that took place between 1872-1874, after the Charles Ingalls family returned from Kansas to live on the land their buyer hadn’t paid for (click HERE for info on this transaction). Wilder wrote that Docia and Ruby were “big girls” still living at home, likely to avoid the fact that Docia’s first husband, August Waldvogel (they were married in March 1866) had gone to prison for killing a man in 1868. Ruby had just turned 16 when Laura’s family returned to Wisconsin; she married at age 19 in 1877.

Lansford’s claim in Pierce County was about twelve miles from Charles’ farm in Pepin County. Click on the thumbnail map above to view the two properties located on an old atlas map. The roads shown on the map don’t line up with the roads in some township maps in the atlas, nor with all roads today. The exact route taken by Charles to his father’s farm can’t be determined, but note that in the 19th century – as now – roads meander though the land and are not all on section lines.

Burnett County, Wisconsin. Lansford and Laura sold their Pierce County land, and in the summer of 1883, Lansford filed on a homestead on Devil’s Lake in Marshland Township, Burnett County. He filed on just over 143 acres of land (not a full quarter section claim because of the lake shore), but as he had already proven up on 80 acres in Pierce County, he shouldn’t have been able to do so. Laura Colby Ingalls died in Burnett County at age 72, on October 18, 1883; she was buried in Orange Cemetery.

In July 1884, George Ingalls took over his father’s claim, and father and son continued to live together on George’s claim. George had married, but his wife was admitted to the insane asylum and never lived with him in Burnett County. Hiram filed on an adjoining claim, living in a tent until he could build a log house.

On March 26, 1896, at age 83, Lansford Ingalls filed on an 80-acre homestead – the S-SW 8-39N-15W – about three miles southeast of Hiram and George’s farms. Two months later, on May 21st, Lansford died. His obituary in the Journal of May 29, 1896, reads: “Once more we were gathered together, this time to lay L. W. Ingalls in his last resting place, ‘God’s acre.’ He has been failing for some time, and eighteen days before his death he had a stroke of paralysis May 14, 1896. He died as he lived, in perfect quiet and at peace with all men. At the ripe age of 84 years he passed away. All loved and respected Grandpa Ingalls, and though we will miss him, we can but say, ‘God’s finger touched him and he slept.'” He was buried beside his wife in Orange Cemetery.

Hiram Ingalls had proven up his own quarter section homestead and wasn’t legally allowed to take additional homestead land, but in February 1903, Hiram filed final proof on his father’s land as Lansford’s heir. Hiram, then a widower, claimed that he moved to his father’s claim after his father’s stroke to look after him. Hiram had his two surviving siblings, Lydia Stouff and James Ingalls, sign a document appointing Hiram as their joint heir in the estate of Lansford Ingalls and stating that Hiram would make final proof. The patent was issued to the joint heirs of Lansford Ingalls; Lydia and James then sold their inheritance to Hiram for one dollar.

Lansford’s claim file indicates that there were two houses on the 80 acres, each with its own well. When Hiram was appointed postmaster of Dongola Post Office in 1899, the post office was moved from its previous location several miles south to one of the houses on the claim, which served as both Post Office and residence. There are no buildings on the land today.

Map showing George and Hiram’s claims north of Webster in Burnett County, Wisconsin, and Lansford’s claim (inherited by Hiram) to the east.


grandfather (BW 1)

grandma (BW 8, 10; LHP 1, 6; SSL 1; THGY)
     beats Uncle George at jigging (BW 8)
     dance at grandma’s (BPC 10, 13; THGY 13)

grandmother (BW 1)
     looked like grandmothers at the young ones (FB 2)
     “our grandmothers would turn in their graves” (THGY 31)

grandpa (BW 2, 5, 7-8, 10, 12; LHP 1, 6; SSL 1; TLW; LTP; PG)
     dance at Grandpa’s (BW 8; SSL 1; PG)
     Grandpa and his two brothers, James and George (BW 5; PG)
     the preacher when Grandpa was a boy (BW 5; PG)
     “The Story of Grandpa and the Panther” (BW 2; LTP 10; PG)
     “The Story of Grandpa’s Sled and the Pig” (BW 5; TLW 4; PG)

Lansford Whiting Ingalls family
     Lansford Whiting, Pa’s father (BW 2-3, 5, 7-8, 10, 12; SSL 1; TLW 4; PG), see also Grandpa
     Laura (Colby), Pa’s mother (BW 8, 10; BPC 10; SSL 1; PG)
     Hiram, not mentioned in the Little House books
     Lydia, not mentioned in the Little House books
     Ruby, called “Dolly Varden”